Tony’s Reformation Story

Have you ever come to a significant fork in the road of your life and felt your very destiny, and the destiny of those you love, could be forever altered? A situation in which, as Morpheus said in The Matrix, “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” 

All of us have a story, but not all have a “Reformation” story. Here’s mine: I was baptized as a baby and was raised a good Lutheran (is there such a thing?). The church I attended would now be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This is the more liberal branch, so I had both male and female pastors.  

I went through my First Communion and then Confirmation, and what still frustrates me to this day is, I don’t remember ever actually being taught what the gospel was. Admittedly, I did learn about the historical facts (thank God for the Apostles and Nicene Creeds), but I never heard about the imputed righteousness of Christ or justification by faith alone. Ironically, in a church which was name after Martin Luther, I wasn’t taught the two concepts that formed the foundation of his theology!

I remember during a confirmation class, I asked one of the pastors if “good people” in different religions were going to be in heaven. Her reply: “There are many ways to god, but Christianity is the most direct path.” I look back on this as the cataclysmic moment that severed me from the Christian faith. If all paths ultimately lead to god, why not forge my own path?  That’s exactly what I did for the next decade.


Post Tenebras Lux: After Darkness, Light

In November of 1994, God was gracious enough to place Christian co-workers around me. They challenged my claim that I was a Christian. Even my then-fiancée told me that if there was one thing she could change about me, it would be that I would become a Christian. Just as I had been taught in Confirmation, I firmly believed that all I had to do was intellectually “believe” in Jesus and I would be saved. He was one of the many roads to God. My co-workers pointed out James 2:19 in which James says that “even the demons believe, and shudder.”

Image by Ivana Cajina
Image by Ivana Cajina

One night after work, I went out and bought a Bible. I was determined to prove to myself and others that I was a Christian. After reading the Gospel of John and Romans, I realized becoming a Christian involved more than just intellectually believing in Christ.  

The Holy Spirit illuminated my mind as I read these passages—it was as if a light bulb went on.  I was able for the first time to understand, and care, what the Bible was saying. I realized that I was a sinner and needed to repent from my sin and trust in Christ alone, through faith alone, to be saved.

Because of the new life He breathed into me, I truly felt “born again” and like a new creation. I found that I genuinely desired to live a life of obedience out of gratitude.


Amazing Grace

When I returned to the faith, I returned to the Lutheran church. Because of my commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, I joined a Missouri Synod church.  Our first-born son was baptized in the Lutheran church. Metaphorically speaking, it was from Wittenberg that my small family began our journey to Geneva.

As I grew in my faith, I found how life-giving and life-transforming the scriptures were. And as I read, there was one truth in particular that permeated to the core of my being: God’s amazing GRACE!  

I was reading in Romans that for those who God foreloved, He predestined, and those who He predestined He called, and those who He called He justified. AND it’s not of the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who shows mercy. What on earth did this mean? How could I reconcile these truths with man’s free will? Everyone knows that man’s free will is a given, right?

I figured it would be best to see if these were just obscure passages of Scripture. Surely, this had to be a mistake on my part! In my investigation, I began reading the book of Ephesians. It didn’t take long before Paul mentioned the concept of predestination once again! Four verses in and Paul says, “God chose us in Christ BEFORE the foundation of the world.” Wow! How could these things be? I could go on and on, but I have a hunch you know what I’m talking about because you may have had a similar experience!


The Five Points of Calvinism

As time progressed, I continued to see that the scriptures were saturated with the sovereignty of God in both salvation and in all of life. With all of the pain I endured in life, I began to take comfort in knowing nothing could happen—not so much as a hair falling from my head—without my Father’s approval. Nothing was in vain! My life wasn’t in the hands of a cold, detached and capricious fate. I could have confidence that no matter what happened in life, for those who love God, all things work together for good. If God was for me, who could be against me?  

Later that summer, as I was growing in my understanding of the doctrines of grace, I attended my friend Joe’s kid’s birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese’s Pizza (do you know that restaurant?). It was there my friend gave me a book called, “The Five Points of Calvinism” by Edwin Palmer. That was the first time I’d heard the term “Calvinist,” and I immediately identified with most of it, but I had some reservations.

Like many, I initially had some reservations about that troubling “L” in TULIP…Limited Atonement. Don’t we all know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world? But then I started reading the scripture proofs and realized how overwhelming the case for Limited Atonement (aka Definite Redemption) really was! R.C. Sproul once called it the easiest of the five points to prove. The reason? Christ’s death ACTUALLY saves!

I began to see that it was the Arminian, not the Calvinist view, that limited the atonement of Christ. In their view, the death of Christ actually doesn’t save anyone at all. It only makes salvation a possibility. A person still needs to generate faith with their own free will to be saved. The big problem with this is: we’re all born spiritually dead! We could no more generate faith without the sovereign call of God than a dead corpse could bring itself to life!

Image by Mahendra Kumar
Image by Mahendra Kumar

So I began reading, reading, and reading some more on this very exciting topic. I read, “The Sovereignty of God” by A.W. Pink and then “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul.  

During that time, I was actually reading “Chosen By God” near a cigar shop, and the owner saw what I was reading. I remember him telling me in his middle-eastern accent, “If you want something really hardcore, read ‘The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination!’” I figured this must be a sign from God! I picked up a copy and couldn’t put it down.

I also began listening to Sproul’s “Renewing Your Mind” and John MacArthur’s “Grace To You” radio broadcasts and thus continued to grow in my understanding of the doctrines of grace.

As all of this was happening, I was still a member of the Lutheran church. I remember asking my pastor if Lutherans believed in the sovereignty of God. He replied, “Sovereignty isn’t in the Bible! It’s a Reformed word!” Hmmm. I was feeling increasingly frustrated that the doctrine I was reading in Luther, especially “Bondage of the Will,” wasn’t matching up with what I was being taught in my Lutheran church.

The issue really came to a head when I was asked to lead a Sunday school class for our “church plant.” I was told I could pick any passage of Scripture. Being a newer Calvinist, still in the infamous “cage stage,” I picked Romans 9. To say it didn’t go over well would be an understatement. That experience spelled the end of my days in the Lutheran Church. I told my wife I couldn’t do it anymore and that I needed to attend an “R.C. Sproul type” of Presbyterian church.


Home Sweet Home

In God’s sovereignty, my current Presbyterian Church (PCA) had a short radio commercial with R.C. Sproul before the beginning of one of his “Renewing Your Mind” broadcasts. I remember hearing my pastor say that the church taught the Bible in the same way R.C. Sproul did. My prayers had been answered! There were still several obstacles and challenges we had to overcome as a family—the path to Reformation is never straight or smooth.  But arrive we did—at Geneva, an earthly outpost at which we were given—and continue to receive—a small foretaste of the feast to come in the New Jerusalem.